July 24, 2020

Winners and Losers of Mookie Betts' Contract Extension with Los Angeles Dodgers

These are certainly unusual days in the baseball world. Major League Baseball is trying to play a 60-game season amid a global pandemic that is far from under control in the United States. Meanwhile, there is ongoing bitterness between the league’s owners and the MLB Players’ Association that could lead to a work stoppage within the next year or two. However, none of that has stopped the Los Angeles Dodgers and outfielder Mookie Betts from agreeing to a massive contract extension.

The deal is for 12 years and $365 million that will start in 2021 rather than making Betts a free agent this winter. The extension tops the 10-year, $360 million extension Angels outfielder Mike Trout signed last year, albeit with a lower yearly average. However you choose to slice it up, this is one of the biggest contracts in the history of professional sports.

Of course, the deal isn’t good news for everybody, so who are the winners and losers of Betts’ extension with the Dodgers?

Winner: Mookie Betts

The obvious winner of this mega-contract is Betts himself. If he wasn’t already set for life financially before this, Betts surely is now.

Betts finds himself in rarified air amongst the likes of Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Gerrit Cole in terms of superstars who have signed massive contracts. It’s worth noting that Betts doesn’t have a no-trade clause and doesn’t have the opportunity to opt-out at any point in the next 12 years, so he had to make some concessions in this deal that other players sometimes get.

However, his contract averages a salary of over $30 million per season for the next 12 years, which isn’t a bad deal in any profession.

Loser: Boston Red Sox

No one is more upset about Betts getting an extension than Red Sox fans.

Boston traded away Betts just a few months ago after failing to reach a deal with him on an extension. The Red Sox reportedly offered him three separate deals over the past few years, going as high as 10 years and $300 million but turning down a counter of offer of $420 million over 12 years. The deal Betts got from the Dodgers was right in the middle of those two offers.

Rather than continuing to negotiate and risk Betts hitting the open market this winter, the Red Sox decided to trade him in an effort to gain payroll flexibility in the years to come. Granted, the Red Sox got a few promising young players in the deal that sent Betts and David Price to Los Angeles. But it’ll be hard for the Red Sox and their fans to reconcile that they weren’t far from being able to re-sign Betts and keep their biggest superstar in Boston for his entire career.

Winner: The Dodgers' Potential Dynasty

In the short-term, the Dodgers are massive winners of their extension with Betts. The club traded for the outfielder with the intention of signing him to a long-term deal before he hit the open market, and they did just that. It makes their trade with the Red Sox look even better, as they gave up three promising players and will now have Betts for longer than only one season.

The kicker is that Los Angeles didn't really need the three players they traded.

They hey don’t need outfielder Alex Verdugo in the long run because they have Betts. Infielder Jeter Downs was expendable with Gavin Lux expected to be the second baseman of the future. Also, catcher Connor Wong was a luxury for the Dodgers, who have Will Smith as their catcher of the future.

Meanwhile, signing Betts to a long-term deal will ensure that the Dodgers will remain a National League powerhouse for the foreseeable future. Along with Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles will have arguably the two best players in baseball outside of Trout for the next several years.

Bellinger is under team control through the 2023 season, as is slugger Max Muncy. Both Lux and Smith are also long-term assets, giving the Dodgers a core of players that they can continue to build around.

With Betts and Bellinger leading the way, the Dodgers will be serious World Series contenders until further notice. At this point, it seems hard to imagine the Dodgers not winning a World Series or two in the next handful of years.

Loser: The 2027 - 2032 Los Angeles Dodgers

As with any long-term contract, there has to be some concern about the back-end of the deal. In fact, we’ve seen teams pay the price toward the end of these contracts.

Joey Votto is already starting to decline with four years left on his 10-year deal with the Reds. It’s been years since Albert Pujols was worth his salary with the Angels during his 10-year contract. Also, the Mariners absolutely regret their 10-year deal with Robinson Cano despite being able to unload his contract. 

Could the Dodgers end up regretting Betts' deal after a few years? 

In fairness, the Dodgers have such a propensity for spending that they may be able to survive an inevitable decline in Betts’ skills.

Betts is also more reliant on his speed and athleticism than many of the other players receiving long-term extensions who are pure sluggers who depend primarily on their power.

Betts' slight frame could make him more vulnerable to injury as he ages. Keep in mind that he’ll be close to 40 by the end of the contract, which is heavily back-loaded.

At some point, Betts will be taking up a significant percentage of the team’s payroll and is unlikely to be worth his salary. That puts the Dodgers under a lot of pressure to win championships during the early years of the contract.

Winner: Major League Baseball 

Believe it or not, MLB is no doubt thrilled to see Betts get a massive extension. Given the ongoing pandemic, there is widespread uncertainty about the finances within the game right now. The fact that the Dodgers were willing to commit over $350 million to a superstar is undoubtedly a good sign.

Granted, the Dodgers are notorious free spenders and Betts was likely to receive a big contract even if he waited until free agency this winter.

Nevertheless, the extension is a sign that the pandemic hasn’t hurt the value of one of MLB’s biggest stars. 

With tension growing between the league’s owners and the union, the owners can use this extension as evidence that teams are still investing in star players amidst concerns of tepid spending in free agency this winter and Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations coming after the 2021 season.

Loser: The Rest of the NL West

The biggest losers with the Betts extension might be the rest of the teams in the NL West. The Dodgers have already won seven consecutive division titles and have now taken another big step toward improving their roster in the years to come.

With Betts and Bellinger under team control for another few years, Los Angeles will be that much more difficult to catch. The funny thing is that the Giants have won three World Series titles in the last decade, the Rockies and Diamondbacks have both put together promising seasons and the Padres are clearly a time on the rise. 

However, the gap between Los Angeles and the rest of the division continues to grow. 

Photo: Getty Images / Lines Illustration